Two extraordinary poems by an Iraq combat vet

26 Apr



Kevin Powers served with the US Army in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq. He wrote a book about his experiences, called The Yellow Birds, which I have not read , but fully intend to.




I have, however, read his amazing book of poetry, and I wanted to share these two poems with my readers.




His voice is one that needs to be heard, because he is able to express so beautifully what other voices cannot.




Great Plain


Here is where appreciation starts, the boy

in a dusty velour tracksuit almost getting shot.

When I say boy, I mean it. When I say almost

getting shot, I mean exactly that. For bringing

unexploded mortars right up to us

takes a special kind of courage I don’t have.

A dollar for each one, I’m told,

on orders from Brigade HQ

to let the children do the dirty work.


When I say, I’d say fuck that, let the bastards find them

with the heels of boots and who care if I mean us

as bastards and who cares if heels of boots mean things

that once were, the way grass once was a green thing

and now is not, the way the muezzin call once was

five times today and now is not


and when I say heel of boot I hope you’ll appreciate

that I really mean the gone foot, any one of us

timbered and inert and when I say green

I mean like fucking Nebraska, wagon wheels on the prairie

and other things that can’t be appreciated

until you’re really far away and they come up

as points of reference.


I don’t know what Nebraska looks like.

I’ve never been. When I say Nebraska

I mean the idea of, the way an ex-girlfriend of mine

once talked about the idea of a gun. But guns are not ideas.

They are not things to which comparisons are made. They



one weight in my hand when the little boy crests the green


and the possibilities of shooting him or not extend out

from me

like the spokes of a wheel.  The hills are not green anymore

and in my mind they never were, thought when I say they


I mean I’m talking about reality. I appreciate that, too,



the hills were green,


someone else had paid him

for his scavenging, one less

exploding thing beneath our feet.

I appreciate the fact

that for at least one day I don’t have to decide

between dying and shooting a little boy.



Field Manual


Think not of battles, but rather after,

when the tremor in your right leg

becomes a shake you cannot stop, when the burned man’s

tendoned cheeks are locked into a scream that,

before you sank the bullet in his brain to end it,

had been quite loud.  Think of how he still seems to scream.

Think of not caring.  Call this “relief”.


Think heat waves rising from the dust.

Think days of rest, how the sergeant lays

the .22 into your palm and says the dogs

outside the wire have become a threat

to good order and discipline:

some boys have taken them as pets, they spread

disease, they bit a colonel preening for a TV crew.


Think of afternoons in T-shirts and shorts,

the unending sun, the bit of sweat in the eyes.

Think of missing so often it becomes absurd.

Think quick pop, yelp, then puckered fur.

Think skinny ribs. Think smell.

Think almost grief, but

not quite getting there.



Kevin is an absolutely amazing poet, who defies pretty much every stereotype of brutish, insensitive, uncaring, emotionally stunted soldier there is.


Consider buying his books.


I’ve already ordered mine.


Lots of love,



4 Responses to “Two extraordinary poems by an Iraq combat vet”

  1. everydaybride93 April 26, 2014 at 16:45 #

    Thanks for sharing. My oldest son is just finishing his first year in the army and my youngest just enlisted. Our enlisted soldiers are amazing young men. As an Army mom the books and poems written by them bring great comfort to me and pride.


  2. Nunuv Yobeezwax April 26, 2014 at 19:34 #

    Thank you Bitch. I wonder how much more ‘Semper’ the ignorant and ungrateful will be getting their ‘Fidelis’ Reminded me, I’ve already read “One Bullet Away” – time for “Generation Kill.”


  3. Chris April 27, 2014 at 12:10 #

    He is good, JB, but I find it amazing and incredibly short-sighted that the war poets are not taught: anyone who has read them no longer thinks of mindless myrmodians.


  4. judgybitch April 27, 2014 at 12:25 #

    Had to Google that! Ancient, skilled warriors described in Homer’s Illiad. Very cool!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: